Gender and Use of Workplace Policies

Why Take Gender Out Of Work-Life? Sloan Research Network Newsletter, Spring 2001, Volume 3(1)

An interview with Marcia Brumit Kropf, Ph.D.

Bio: Marcia Brumit Kropf is the Vice President for Research at Catalyst. She oversees Catalyst’s Research Department and the Information Center, a special library focusing on women and work. Dr. Kropf is responsible for Catalyst’s research, overseeing all phases of this work including research design, data collection, analysis, and report writing. Dr. Kropf served as the principal researcher for Catalyst's three-year study, A New Approach to Flexibility: Managing the Work/Time Equation, sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. She also directed Catalyst’s national study exploring the career decisions, opportunities, and work/life issues of dual-career couples, Two Careers, One Marriage: Making It Work in the Workplace.


For over a decade, Catalyst has been conducting ground-breaking research that has examined the experiences of women in the workplace. Among its most recent studies, Catalyst partnered with the University of Michigan Business School and the Center for The Education of Women at The University of Michigan to look at the career decisions and labor force participation patterns of 1,684 alums from 12 top MBA schools who graduated between 1981 and 1995. The findings from Women and the MBA: Gateway to Opportunity suggest that the labor force attachment of men and women continues to be very different, despite the changes in workplace policies and attitudes that have occurred during the past two decades. Fewer than 1of every 3 women MBA’s (29%) reported that they had participated in the labor force continuously since their graduation, in comparison to the 61% of the male MBA’s. When Catalyst looked at those women who had maintained continuous employment since their graduation, the researchers found that these women were less likely to be married than the other female MBA’s and they were less likely to be parents. These predictive factors did not emerge among the men.

Does gender still matter when we talk about work/life experiences? Unequivocally. Kropf commented, "It is totally understandable that some work/life champions discuss work and family issues with gender-neutral language. Certainly, there are indications that many men experience work/life conflicts and, increasingly, devote time to caring for their children, helping elderly relatives, and taking care of household responsibilities. Furthermore, it is clear that women will need men as allies if we want to change some of the systemic and structural barriers at the workplace that make it difficult for women to compete, contribute, succeed, and thrive. From this point of view, it has been a strategic decision to frame work-family issues as priorities for both men and women. However, when we gloss over gender, we tend to overlook some very important things. First of all, women experience work and family issues differently, in part because they continue to assume a larger proportion of the family and home responsibilities than do men. In addition, women continue to encounter different opportunities, supports, and attitudes at the workplace than men. Ultimately, it is not in the best interests of women if we downplay these realities."

Catalyst remains undaunted in its campaign. A less committed group might have become discouraged at the slow pace of social change at the workplace, but the Catalyst researchers look at the complex corporate landscape and see new opportunities. Kropf has a clear action agenda for women at work, an agenda that could alleviate many of the root causes of work/life conflicts experienced by women. She observed, "If we design companies in a different way, the work experience will be different for women. Despite all of the good work that has been done by work/life champions and corporate leaders, we continue to accept stereotypes related to the appropriateness of certain types of work being done by women, especially by mothers. Furthermore, we have perpetuated insidious mis-assumptions about how work should be done. Taken together, these out-dated notions have had very negative outcomes for women at the workplace." In the MBA study, only 42 men (5%) reported periods of part-time work compared to 370 of the women (42%). The women reported that they had decided to work part-time as a work/life strategy - for family (46%) or lifestyle (24%) reasons. By contrast, the very few men reporting periods of part-time work cited reasons related to employment - the lack of full time work (38%), problem with prior employer (12%), career change (10%), or company merger/reorganization (2%). Kropf feels that the disparity in work hours between men and women might be significantly reduced if workplace structures and practices were more flexible and if employees had sufficient autonomy that they could implement innovative work schedules and work processes. Kropf firmly believes that the challenges in front of the work/life movement, today, are located in the work arena rather than the life arena.

Kropf remains optimistic that we can implement strategies that will make a difference. Catalyst continues to focus on the importance of mentoring in many of its studies. Not surprisingly, Catalyst researchers have found that women, in general, tend to be marginalized, especially in the informal mentoring systems at the workplace. This is even more true for women of color. In Catalyst’s 1999 study, Women of Color in Corporate Management: Opportunities and Barriers, women of color describe the two top barriers to their advancement as not having an influential mentor or sponsor (47%) and lack of informal networking with influential colleagues (40%). Catalyst believes that if we can change women’s access to quality mentoring experiences, women will not only gain access to important business relationships and opportunities, but, in addition, they will be in better positions to change the structural barriers that have inhibited their success in the past.

Catalyst is known for the effectiveness of its advocacy strategies, as well as for its research strategies. For example, Catalyst has used the propensity of corporations to be competitive as a way to encourage them to make better use of the expertise and talents that women bring to business. Every year Catalyst publishes a census of women in the Fortune companies. One year Catalyst counts the number of women on the boards and the next year counts the number of women corporate officers and top earners. After seeing "zeros" after their company’s name for several years in a row, some companies have begun to open cracks in the doors for women. It is important to note, however, that progress is slow. The number of women board members in the Fortune 500 has grown from 8.3% in 1993 (when Catalyst first counted) to 11.2% in 1999 when 84% of the companies had at least one woman on the board. The number of women officers in the Fortune 500 has grown from 8.7% in 1995 (when Catalyst first counted) to 12.5% in 2000 when 82% of the companies had at least one woman corporate officer.

Although Kropf acknowledges that there has been only limited change in some of the indicators of progress relative to women’s status at the workplace, she advises us to celebrate the accomplishments that have been made. For example, it is possible to look at the history of the Catalyst Awards to understand the changes that companies have made. For example, in 1987, when Catalyst first gave awards to company programs, awards were presented to the Connecticut Consortium for Child Care for a child care resource and referral program, Equitable Financial Companies for the collaboration of the Women’s Business Resource Group using an employee survey to identify the work-related needs of female employees, IBM for their national child care resource and referral program, and Mobil Corporation for a senior management development program for women and minorities. Those programs were unique and ground-breaking in 1987. In the late 1990s, there was a significant shift with companies nominating for diversity initiatives that focus on the systemic factors that affect women’s work experiences. In addition, Catalyst can now require strong measurable results and accountability measures. In 2001, the award was presented to American Express, General Mills, and JP Morgan Chase - for broad initiatives with stringent accountability measures for managers which impact compensation, regular on-going information-gathering which is reported in diversity scorecards, and clear documentation of the advancement of women.

Kropf and her colleagues at Catalyst challenge work/life champions to shift the focus to the redesign of workplace structures because, in the long run, these changes will support the quality of the work and family lives experienced by all.

Civil Rights Law at work: Sex discrimination and the rise of maternity leave policies, Autumn 2000, Volume 2(3)

An Interview with Erin Kelly

Bio: Erin Kelly received her B.A. from Rice University in 1993 and her Ph.D. in sociology from Princeton University in June 2000. She is currently an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, where she teaches courses on gender, work, and family.

Editors Note: Erin Kelly kindly spoke with us about the award-winning paper and the research it generated. She began the paper as a graduate student at Princeton University when she took a methods course with Professor Frank Dobbin. Kelly tells an intriguing story of how their research shed light on the paradoxical power of "weak’ administrative rulings in the rise of maternity leave policies.


Sloan Work and Family Research Network: Please tell us about this award-winning paper.

Kelly: Frank and I started working on the paper my first year of graduate school. Originally, I was interested in studying which fathers took family leave, but I could not find data. I was fortunate, however, that Frank had access to data from a stratified random sample of California, New Jersey, and Virginia employers. Using that data, we were able to chart the spread of maternity leave policies between 1955 and 1985 in 279 organizations.

The analysis showed that over half of the companies had maternity leave in place by 1985. As a young graduate student who did not know the earlier legal history of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), I was surprised by the number of companies who had enacted leave policies well before the passage of the FMLA. To see what was going on, I dove into FMLA legal history, and Frank and I started analyzing the data. We think the story that we discovered is interesting for researchers of law and organizations. And it reminds those of us in the work-family field about the earlier history of family leave.

The story starts with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed sex discrimination in employment. But the 1964 landmark legislation did not deal with maternity leave at all, so there was a period of confusion and debate about how maternity leave ‘fit’ under sex discrimination law. In 1972, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) declared that companies that weren’t providing maternity leave were violating Civil Rights Act — were discriminating against women. This EEOC administrative guideline was published in the federal register and gained some attention in the press.

However, administrative guidelines come out all the time, therefore, we think the next phase was absolutely critical. With the EEOC, some unions sued employers over their maternity leave practices. Those legal battles really catapulted the whole issue of maternity leave into the public’s eye. With our data, we are able to show that companies started adding maternity leave in large numbers. By the time the FMLA was enacted, the "damage" (laughing) had been done; many employers had maternity leave policies.

SWFRN: What are the broader implications of this case? In short how does public policy shape employment practices in the US?

Kelly: We think it’s a very interesting case. It underscores the surprising effects administrative guidelines have on organizational behavior. Administrative rulings are ‘weak’ because they can be overturned by the courts and by Congress. Americans tend to underestimate the importance of policy in part because the federal government appears to be weak.

SWFRN: Please tell us about your current research projects.

Kelly: In June 2000, I completed my dissertation, which used a survey (funded by the Sloan Foundation) of almost 400 employers. The dissertation, entitled ‘Corporate Family Policies in U.S. Organizations, 1965-1997’, looked at how and why organizations provide family policies, such as family leave and dependent care programs. Currently, I am collaborating with Frank Dobbin and Sandra Kalev. We are looking at the impact of the FLMA, a clear mandate, on organizations. The law did have a dramatic effect, bringing on board a group of employers who ignored earlier pressure. We see an enormous increase in paternity leave and leave policies for workers who need to care for seriously ill relatives. We also found that about 20% of surveyed companies aren’t abiding by the requirements of the FMLA. Either they aren’t allowing leaves or they don’t allow 12 weeks of leave for paternity or maternity.

SWFRN: Any common characteristics among the non-compliant companies, for example, size?

Kelly: The sample includes middle and larger companies (at least 50 employees). The non-compliant companies tend to be smaller, less likely to have professional and managerial workers in core jobs, and are located in states that do not have their own state leave law. With the help of the Sloan Foundation, I am investigating the extent to which non-compliance is due to ignorance or resistance. From the preliminary interviews, I’m seeing ignorance and resistance are actually intertwined. This is hard to investigate; I’m still playing around with how to get at this in detail with the interviews. But I am getting the sense that within the organization, there are people who clearly understand the law, but they are resisting by allowing the general population of workers and, sometimes, low level HR managers to remain ignorant.

The policy implication is that we need to educate workers. Perhaps union can play a role in educating workers and managers who are making the decisions. I have some hope that if we get to a system of paid family leave, by applying through an unemployment office, for maternity leave pay, the organization will be taken out of the picture. If we move to such a system, we could educate workers about their basic rights under the existing law.

SWFRN: Exciting work. What’s next on the research agenda?

Kelly: I am planning a comparative case study that will explain implementation and variation of family policy within organizations. The key question: Why some organizations whole-heartedly implement family policies, while others put them ‘on the books’ but make few real changes in their practices or the organizational culture. Editor’s note: Frank Dobbin is Professor of Sociology at Princeton University. He studies the evolution of corporate human resource policies, and has most recently focused on how they are shaped by federal laws designed to promote equality of opportunity. His recent articles trace the spread of affirmative action programs, of diversity management policies, and of sexual harassment policies.

A Sloan Network Fact Sheet on Gender and Use of Workplace Policies (2008)

Statistic: 

The Sloan Work and Family Research Network has prepared Fact Sheets which provide statistical answers to some important questions about work-family and work/life issues.

Click here to download the Sloan Network Fact Sheet on Gender and Use of Workplace Policies:
https://workfamily.sas.upenn.edu/sites/workfamily.sas.upenn.edu/files/imported/pdfs/gender.pdf

Source: 

Sloan Network (2008). Questions and answers about gender and use of workplace policies: A Sloan Work and Family Research Network fact sheet. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Gender: demographics, workforce, reduced hours (2009)

Statistic: 

“Men are … more likely to be working reduced hours (under 35 hours a week) than in the past--"from 9.5% in 2007 to 10.2% in 2008. Women’s level has remained stable--"23.5% in 2007 and 23.6% in 2008” (Galinsky, Aumann, & Bond, 2009, p.4).

Source: 

Galinsky, E., Aumann, K., & Bond, J. T. 2009. Times are changing: Gender and generation at work and at home. New York: Families and Work Institute. Retrieved from http://familiesandwork.org/site/research/reports/Times_Are_Changing.pdf

Description: 

"Various data sources were used for this report. Primary sources were the Families and Work Institute 1992, 1997, 2002 and 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW) surveys, as well as the 1977 Quality of Employment Survey (QES) conducted by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan with funding from the U.S. Department of Labor. The NSCW builds directly upon the 1977 QES, which was discontinued after the 1977 round of data collection. Both the NSCW and QES are based on random samples of the U.S. workforce. The present report is based on 2,769 wage and salaried employees from the 2008 total sample. Total samples include wage and salaried employees who work for someone else, independent self-employed workers who do not employ anyone else, and small business owners who do employ others. NSCW total samples for each year average about 3,500 employed people. All NSCW samples are adjusted to reflect (i.e., weighted to) recent U.S. Bureau of the Census statistics on the total U.S. population to adjust for any sampling bias that might have occurred. The response rates for all NSCW surveys are above 50%, applying the conservative method of calculation recommended by the American Association for Public Opinion Research. In 2008, the response rate was 54.6%. The estimated maximum sampling error for the total wage and salaried sample is approximately +/- 1%" (Galinsky, Aumann, & Bond, 2009, p. 23).

 

Shift Work: gender, race, trends (2007)

Statistic: 

Between May 2001 and May 2004, “men continued to be more likely than women to usually work an alternate shift (19.1 percent and 16.1 percent, respectively, and black workers were more likely than workers in any of the other racial or ethnic groups surveyed to work an alternate shift, in 2004 (23.2 percent)” (McMenamin, 2007, p. 9).

Source: 

 McMenamin, T. (2007). A time to work: recent trends in shift work and flexible schedules. Monthly Labor Review, 130(12), 3-15.

Description: 

“The data presented in this article and other information on work schedules and shifts were obtained from a supplement to the May 2004 Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 households conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), principally to gather information on employment and unemployment. Respondents to the May 2004 supplement answered questions about work schedules or shifts and whether they did any job-related work at home” (McMenamin, 2007, p. 15).

Flexible Work: variable schedules, gender (2007)

Statistic: 

“Since 1985, the proportions of employed men and women able to vary their work hours have been about equal” (McMenamin, 2007, p. 4).

Source: 

McMenamin, T. (2007). A time to work: recent trends in shift work and flexible schedules. Monthly Labor Review, 130(12), 3-15.

Description: 

“The data presented in this article and other information on work schedules and shifts were obtained from a supplement to the May 2004 Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 households conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), principally to gather information on employment and unemployment. Respondents to the May 2004 supplement answered questions about work schedules or shifts and whether they did any job-related work at home” (McMenamin, 2007, p. 15).

Flexible Work: variable schedules, working parents (2007)

Statistic: 

“Since 1985, the proportions of employed mothers and fathers able to vary their work hours have been about equal” (McMenamin, 2007, p. 4).

Source: 

McMenamin, T. (2007). A time to work: recent trends in shift work and flexible schedules. Monthly Labor Review, 130(12), 3-15.

Description: 

“The data presented in this article and other information on work schedules and shifts were obtained from a supplement to the May 2004 Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 households conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), principally to gather information on employment and unemployment. Respondents to the May 2004 supplement answered questions about work schedules or shifts and whether they did any job-related work at home” (McMenamin, 2007, p. 15).

Flexible Work: variable schedules, industry, gender, prevalence (2007)

Statistic: 

“In professional and related occupations…41.8 percent of men were able to vary their schedule, compared with 26.2 percent of women. Much of this difference arises because many more women in that occupational group were employed in the education and health care fields, where flexible work schedules were less prevalent” (McMenamin, 2007, p. 4).

Source: 

 McMenamin, T. (2007). A time to work: recent trends in shift work and flexible schedules. Monthly Labor Review, 130(12), 3-15.

Description: 

“The data presented in this article and other information on work schedules and shifts were obtained from a supplement to the May 2004 Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 households conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), principally to gather information on employment and unemployment. Respondents to the May 2004 supplement answered questions about work schedules or shifts and whether they did any job-related work at home” (McMenamin, 2007, p. 15).

Telework: gender, men, prevalence (2007)

Statistic: 

Of the ‘employee teleworkers’ who worked remotely at least one day a month in 2006,  “three out of five employee teleworkers are male” (WorldatWork, 2007, p. 6).

Source: 

WorldatWork. (2007). Telework trendlines for 2006.

Retrieved from http://www.workingfromanywhere.org/news/Trendlines_2006.pdf

Description: 

“The … report includes data from the Telework Module of the ‘2006 American Interactive Consumer Survey,’ a random digit dialed (RDD) telephone survey conducted Oct. 17 through Nov. 5, 2006 by The Dieringer Research Group, Inc. The telecommuting questions in the ‘2006 American Interactive Consumer Survey’ are commissioned by WorldatWork through a special arrangement with The Dieringer Research Group. One thousand and one telephone interviews were conducted with adults 19 years and older in the United States using computer generated random-digit telephone lists. The data were weighted to match current population norms for U.S. adults 18 years and older, using four weighting factors: age, gender, educational attainment and U.S. Census region” (WorldatWork, 2007, p. 1).

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